Eloghosa Osunde, Vagabonds!, Fourth Estate, 2022.
Vagabonds! is a remarkable magical realism story - or rather multiple stories of life in Lagos, and particularly stories of LGBTQIA+ persons and women.
CWs: "Night Wind", child abuse. "After God, Fear Women", domestic abuse. "There is Love at Home", graphic BDSM (consensual). Also, violence against LGBTQIA+ people scattered throughout (mostly references).
Vagabonds! presents a colection of what seems to be loosely connected short stories. Connected because they're all taking place in Lagos, presented from the first chapter as a god with its yoruba name, Èkó. Connected also because as you progress in the book, you realise many characters have a connection with each other and that Wura Blackson is a central character among them because of the impact she's had on people's lives. Connected finally because everything leads to a finale where everyone we've met will join together. Tatafo, a being serving Èkó provides intermissions, commenting on the city, the way it treats its inhabitants, and its relationship with the sea.
The structure of the novel might make it a challenging read because the overarching narrative isn't immediately visible and you spend little time with some characters. Nonetheless, some of the chapters are an absolute delight to read.
Among my favourites are "After God, Fear Women", in which women disappear from their abusive homes, because fleeing can be empowerment; "Rain", in which we meet Wura Blackson as she's about to die; "Overheard: Fairygodgirls" in which fairies strive to find the best book for each woman and girl who needs to escape or find empowerment, or simply the will to resist and find her own path. This last one in particular left me grinning, a perfect read for any bookworm or librarian.
Even though some of the chapters are very dark, there's also a lot of joy (including LGBTQIA+ joy) and hope in them.
Osunde doesn't hide her bias: Vagabonds! asserts loudly the existence and the right to live, love and be happy of LGBTQIA+ people and women in Nigeria. A feminist and pro-LGBTQIA+ book, it uses fiction to describe their reality in contemporary Nigeria, and fights against the 2015 law that criminalises homosexuality in Nigeria.
Of course, in such a novel, the city itself is a character. We see Èkó through Tatafo's eyes, but we also visit Lagos, from the private estates to the market, through all the people who live in it, in particular those that the city doesn't want in.
Wura Blackson was among them all the character who struck me the most. Her own story makes her shine, but we also see her through her friends and relatives' eyes after her death. She embodies the importance you can have in the world, simply by being yourself, even if you're a reclusive person, or by creating works that move people.
Osunde's prose is an absolute delight to read, moving from Nigerian pidgin to PE, some sentences full of cheek and joy, others pregnant with grief and pain. She weaves in and out of different rhythms, suiting her prose to the story and its theme, until the irresistible cadence of the last chapter.
Vagabonds! is another superb example of Nigerian fantasy/magical realism. It asserts with strength and joy the existence of those who are brutally treated and opens a window towards hope.
If you've liked Vagabonds!, you might also enjoy
All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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